August 18, 2008

Transformation

I have been mentally writing this post all summer, but to actualize its contents and write the words has taken me all week. One excuse after another has postponed the outing of my new year’s resolutions and accompanying manifesto.

In short, I want to make some major changes in my life. These changes were inspired after reading three books this summer: The Omnivore’s Dilemma, The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight, and Animal, Vegetable, and Miracle.

This textual trifecta has affected me so profoundly, that after reading them I cannot, in good consciousness, go back to business as usual in my daily habits. Upon completion of these three works, I have realized that my dissatisfaction with the state of much of the world lies not in my inability to bring about a change in humanity, but rather my frustration is due in large part to my own inability to take responsibility for things that I can change in my own life.

Having said that, I have also begun to realize that I will never become the perfect citizen I envision; I need to pick my battles and make small changes in order to help myself be able to look at myself in the mirror. With so many problems in the world and with the intensity in which we are all ensnared in the web of industrial global capitalism, we cannot escape, and by trying to boycott ourselves from every facet of the machine we will end up too thwarted to continue the fight. The solutions, I suppose, could be to ignore the web of destruction being woven for our comfort until the whole planet explodes and leaves our children holding the charred piece of a once sustainable home, or we can become disillusioned to the point of psychosis. I have never been a citizen content with apathy, and honestly trying to change everything has crushed my spirit. These three books, however, have taught me to look at myself and reassess how I could be of the most help to the myself, my family, and the world; the answer as I see it, is to make small changes in my daily habits and behavior. While the cynic would argue that mere symbolic personal acts serve no purpose in global change, I think the Zen teacher would argue that making small self-aware changes are the only way anything will ever change.

This blog post and the subsequent posts which will be written throughout the year will be many things: a public declaration to help me stay motivated, an organizational tool to help me stay in touch with reality, a reflective space where I hope that by watching me embark on this journey and reading about the process, readers will be motivated to perhaps look at their own lives and….I will leave that for you to decide.

At the most fundamental level there are five themes I want to explore this year:
  • I want to de-industrialize
  • I want to reconnect to food
  • I want to help create, foster, and maintain a community
  • I want to begin and maintain an exercise routine
  • I want to start sitting Zazen (Zen meditation.)

“Most of us walk through daily life, driving down the street, sitting in the office, or wandering around the house, in a state of disconnection from the natural world around us. We’re thinking of the past or the future, worrying about some problem or task, preparing to meet or avoid the challenges of our day. In a sense, the experience of aliveness is not a normal part of our daily lives.”
Thom Hartmann

I want to de-industrialize myself as much as possible, and by doing so try and reconnect with the natural world. I could use the excuse of living in a barren uber-capitalistic desert to roadblock many of my objectives, but I see the place where I live as a test. Sort of like Sinatra said, “If I can make it here, I can make it anywhere.” Sure there is very little nature here, sure you can literally see the fossil fuel being burned in clouds of flame just outside the city, but these experiences are all the more reason to examine my role in the midst of this apocalyptic landscape; because after all, if we don’t change our ways, this setting is the future of our beautiful planet. If we don’t begin to realize that our actions affect every eco-system on the planet, we will all be living or eventually dying in a desert much like the one I inhabit now.

Just the other night, I stood in my driveway as the sun set, the temperature still well above 30 degrees, staring at the moon. My daughter, her hair stuck to her forehead with sweat, cooed, “Pretty moon!” Yes it is sweetheart, yes it is. Symbolically de-industrialization is nothing more than that. What does it look like practically? That is the question I want to explore for myself. How can I reconnect with the aliveness of my life? How can I reenter and find my place in the ecosystem I inhabit, even if that ecosystem is this desert? These are the question I hope to answer in the coming months. I will use reflective journals, poetry, and other art mediums to capture the essence of trying to reenter an ecosystem.

Many people today seem perfectly content eating at the end of an industrial food chain, without a thought in the world. I want to eat in full consciousness of everything involved in feeding myself.

Michael Pollen

It’s easy for any of us to claim no time for cooking; harder to look at what we’re doing instead, and why every bit of it is presumed more worthy.

Barbara Kingsolver

I want to reconnect with food, and subsequently eat better and cook more often. Again the fact that I live in a desert, in a house without a yard may prove to be a major obstacle, especially since I want to grow some of my own food, even if that means a few tomatoes plants and herbs. To return to the theme of de-industrialization, I want to distance myself as much as possible from the industrial food chain and processed food. I want to focus on basic whole foods, grown closely to where I live as possible. However, because about ninety-nine percent of the food in supermarkets here in Doha is imported, most of it from the States, I will not have the luxury of frequenting farmers markets or participating in food co-ops, but I will work to my best ability to try and maintain a short food chain that I can monitor. I hope to write regular journal entries about the variety of meals I consume, some will hopefully be inspirational stories of homegrown salads and maybe even eggs (I want to explore the idea of a chicken coop) while others may focus more on the frustration of understanding that my blueberries burned more fossil fuel calories than they could ever return to my body. I hope to eventually weed out most processed and imported food. I want to create a diet of mostly whole foods.

We’ve sacrificed our community life for the pleasure of purchasing lots of cheap stuff.

Thom Hartmann

Every meal we share at a table recapitulates evolution from native to culture, as we pass from satisfying our animal appetites in semi silence to the lofting of conversational balloons.

Michael Pollen

I want to help create, foster, and maintain a community with the people I interact with on a daily basis. Community is defined as a social, religious, occupational, or other group sharing common characteristics or interests and perceived or perceiving itself as distinct in some respect from the larger society within which it exists. I want to share food, thoughts, dreams, artwork, activism, and other non-mundane everyday things with the people I socialize. I hope to attract others who are interested in the themes already mentioned: de-industrialization, food, and community. I hope to have monthly dinners, where we cook communal meals and sit formally at a table enjoying food, conversation, and our sense of community. I hope to have a film and book club where I can share ideas, movies, and books with lie minded friends. (This last paragraph is for the people to whom I emailed this link who live in Doha. I hope you are on board. Send me an email, leave a comment, give me a phone call, or better yet come on over and let’s get started brainstorming some idea on what it means to create a community like this one. A community that is dynamic, open, honest and fruitful.)

I hope that this new diet will lead me to focus on my body in a more aware and responsible manner. I want to finally begin and maintain some sort of exercise routine and protein intake regiment to try and gain some weight. I have spent much of my life focusing on my intellectuality, spirituality, and artistic ability, but I have always ignored my body. My muscles are already in entropy and are always stiff and sore. The time has come to give my body the attention it has needed all my life. In addition to physical exercise, I am finally ready to start sitting mediation.

These are lofty goals; I know. I hope this first post will serve as the stepping-stone of a very long journey. I know I will soon write a more comprehensive schedule and plan for what all of this will look like. For example, how long will I sit? How many days a week? The nuts and bolts are forthcoming. For now I just needed to get my manifesto started. It will never be perfect, but like all life practices I will put my shoulder to the wheel and push until I cannot push any longer, then perhaps I will take a break, and the begin to push some more.

Through this simple, practical, daily process, we begin to save the world.

All post about this new change will be labeled as Transformation if you wold like to stay tuned.

5 comments:

  1. Sounds like you and I are similar. I never seem to have much connection with New Years and anything lifechanging around that time of year. But now, in August, as summer up North looms to a close, I always tend to take a deeper look at my life. I read In Defense of Food this summer and came back feeling the same way; that I needed to spend more time thinking about what and how I eat. As well, want to try to get some exercise this year, but with a busy work and family schedule, I'm still not sure how this will happen. I am a dedicated Catholic and try to spend early mornings connecting with my spiritual side to bring some balance into my life. Sounds like we're on a similar journey.

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  2. Hi Jabiz,
    I enjoyed reading your post. I wish you well with the goals oyu ahve set yourself. It is so interesating reading about your life in Doha. Such a contrast to my own. It's nice to be able to learn from you. I share similar goals -the desire to eat well and do more exercise. I used to be very fit and lifted weights. It felt wonderful and I need to do this again. Hopefully I will. I wish you all the best with your new job and new school year.
    Jenny Luca.

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  3. i just read your latest post- and it sounded a bit like me :-) the whole reconnecting to nature and our humanity is life changing- and in fact, i just read thich nhat hanh's last essay in 'mindful politics' and he was saying similar things. changing ourselves changes the world around us and the truth is- we can't change the world ourselves. i got discouraged and wanted to isolate- cocoon. i don't have that luxury either. do you still have your little patio area with the flowers? gardening is my thing these days too- the whole foods thing- and i have lots of good info- so let me know. container gardening and square foot gardening in small places- i'll give you the link and perhaps you can modify. perhaps a community garden plot somewhere amidst the sand? if those folks have more money than sense there- they wouldn't mind getting some decent topsoil ;-)
    http://www.squarefootgardening.com/
    http://gardening.about.com/od/vegetablepatch/a/ContainerVeggie.htm

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  4. A collection of like-minded folks who are interested in good food = a community = a food cooperative

    Congratulations on first steps. I just enjoyed my first tomato from my backyard garden last week. So good.

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  5. Nice resolutions. And don't get discouraged if you don't stick to all of your new plans right away. As my moms always used to say (although some people claim she stole this from Section 22 of the Tao Te Ching), you need to go with the flow:

    Futility of Contention

    To yield is to be preserved whole.
    To be bent is to become straight.
    To be hollow is to be filled.
    To be tattered is to be renewed.
    To be in want is to possess.
    To have plenty is to be confused.

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